Could Traditional Retail Closures from Covid-19 lead to boom in Retail Trailers and Vehicles?

A lot has been discussed this week on the future of retail.  One article in particular painted a picture that included a new world with only a homogenous selection of national retailers remaining.  The implication being that local or small businesses lack the deep pockets that will be required to survive the time between a closed US and a vaccine or drug therapy.  Mom and pop businesses that are really the soul of a city will be lost.  If this proves to be true there may be a small role for experiential agencies, fabricators and assets owners to play in bringing the soul back.

Sadly there is no doubt we are going to lose a large percentage of small businesses.  A restaurant forced to operate at 25% capacity is not profitable.  Some may not be profitable at 50%.  These businesses may be forced to close but perhaps not forever.  Here is where experiential community comes into play.  What if these businesses moved to or reopened in a smaller space that had less barriers.  Less financial barriers and less physical barriers.  What if the small businesses reopened outside?  Moving to a mobile asset that has a smaller square footage and is open air would circumvent the need to get people to walk inside a store.  It also has the added benefit of receiving UV light, not containing and recirculating air like a traditional commercial property might.

Mobile retail trailer

Small business with a good brand impacted by Covid-19 could reopen in a mobile retail space.

Shopping is going to fundamentally change over the next two years while we wait on a vaccine if no drug therapy is discovered.  This creates a 2 prong issue.  The first is how to safely operate a business in this environment.  They second is convincing customers that it’s safe to enter the business.  One of the reasons that large retailers will survive is because they have the funds and corporate structure in place to develop and institute complex safety plans for both workers and customers.  This is reassuring to the public.  In contrast small business customers are putting their faith in a specific business owner to get things right.  Then, even owners that get things right might not have the funds to provide masks and other PPE for workers and customers on a daily basis. 

Using experiential or mobile assets could dramatically cut down on the operational cost of small retailers as well as simplify the shopping experience.  Assets that work similar to a mall kiosk simply open to reveal merchandise that customers can see or choose to interact with without ever entering a store or mall.  Larger “walk in” units could be divided into sections or have limited entry and a quicker more manageable wipe down process.

Won’t most retailers move online and to digital marketing?

Yes, anyone that can move online will move online.  But online may not be as beneficial to small local businesses.  And even larger business with a full online presence and philosophy have needed to add physical locations.  From Casper Mattress to Warby Parker the need for a physical presence is still helpful.  (Both retailers have a store in the same mall in Denver.)  This brings us to experiential agencies.  As more stores move online a physical presence will still be desired from time to time  to exhibit new products and product updates.  See our post “The Next Step for Experiential”  for suggestions on how these activations might look in a Covid-19 world. 

It will be interesting to see if Covid-19 creates a boom of retailers working out of mobile pop-up shops parked on street corners in urban areas or if entire outdoor malls are set up, perhaps in the unused parking lots of movie theaters?  What is certain is that retail will need to evolve and mobile might be a way for small businesses to survive or re open during the pandemic bringing their own style in the form of a mobile retail vehicle.  Hopefully those that are successful will then be ready to return to brick and mortar when the time is right.